IT WAS arguably the most crucial game they have played in the summer era and Leeds Rhinos came through it with a win. Here are five talking points following the 16-6 success at Widnes Vikings.
1: A few months ago a win like that would have been overshadowed by disappointment with the performance, but at this stage the result is all that matters. Rhinos did not play well by most standards, but there were two positives: they conceded only one try, despite heavy pressure on their goalline and, for the first time since the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup win on the same ground in May, came out of a tight contest on the right side of the scoreboard.
2: Two moments of magic from Liam Sutcliffe – a 40-20 kick to set up their second try and brilliant break to create the third – got Rhinos home after they had survived some anxious moments. Sutcliffe has had a tough year, with a long-term injury and being shunted around various positions, but if he can find more consistency that was a glimpse of how influential he could become.
3: Rhinos are not out of the woods yet, still needing two wins to be sure of being in Betfred Super League next year. With Halifax up next week, if they can beat Salford Red Devils at Emerald Headingley in two days’ time they will be almost there. But Toronto are only two points adrift and likely to win at home to Toulouse Olympique on Saturday – and probably Widnes a week later – so the Canadian side’s visit in the final round might become a mini-million-pound game if Leeds lose on Friday.
4: Rhinos’ target should be three more wins, whatever they need mathematically. Widnes are the only Super League team they’ve beaten since the end of April and they need to go into pre-season with something positive to build on, rather than limping across the line. Survival would be a relief, but not cause for celebration. It has been a dreadful season for Rhinos.
5: Sunday’s game will have made interesting and possibly nervous viewing for Dave Furner. He is a good appointment as head coach, but recruitment holds the key to Rhinos’ hopes of making progress next year.